spirituality - lesson 8: ex libris

ex-libris by austin osman spare (left 1908, right 1909)

books are perceived as a vehicle to knowledge, coupled with the fact that in past times only a few people could read well, those in possession of books were seen as highly powerful individuals, with access to a level of reality that others didn't. monasteries and churches of every religion owned some of the biggest libraries, making them the primary sources of information and culture at the time. before the invention of the printing press the production of a single book was a long and difficult endeavor. the skin of sheep, goat or calve would have to be treated, stretched and dried, then cut and formed into sheets. a book like the bible might have taken over 200 hides to create the pages. scribes, a special few who were able write, would painstakingly transcribe the books, with elaborate details, then on top of that there was the craftsmanship of binding of the book. this whole arduous process meant that quite obviously books were expensive and libraries rare. even with the invention of paper in 750AD in china the accumulation of books in a library was an expensive business . 'to steal this book closes the gates of heaven, and to destroy it opens the gates of hell. anyone who takes this book without permission will be punished by all the gods of japan.' - an inscription on the book-seal of the daigoji temple, circa 1470. books are cherished and cared for. to academics and intellectuals books have always been of huge importance, not only for the knowledge they provide but also what theyr eflect about the owner. they are a source of pride and constant pleasure. there is something great about lending someone a book, sharing some knowledge, or simply entertainment with a friend, letting them participate in a treasured pleasure. but have you ever lent a book and never got it back? a common and annoying occurrence even today, but perhaps with less urgency than in the 14th century. as we have established, books were expensive and

therefore tempting objects to steal. one way to solve this was to chain them to tables, but another solution offered a far more interesting and creative opportunity. 'from the library of...' the earliest example of 'ex libris' is that of amenophis III in egypt. the small ceramic plate dates back to about 1390 AD, and would have been attached to papyrus scrolls declaring them to be a part of amenophis' library. however the origins of ex libris as we understand them today - in the form of paper bookplates - are found in germany during the 15th century and have a long history. these tokens of ownership were all hand painted onto small pieces of fine paper (a universal size that would fit all books) and then carefully pasted into them. of course, the arrival of the gutenberg printing press in 1455 changed everything. now people could create bigger libraries and with this there were more books to mark. having all the items decorated by hand would have been hugely costly therefore engraving and wood cut printed batches would be made and pasted into each volume, some being hand painted as well to enhance beauty. on paper thin enough so that the front cover can lay flat. batches of 50 to 100 each numbered and sighed by the artist.

by gregor rabinovitch circa 1910s

by emil d.j. doeple for wilheimi II circa 1895

by axel father, 1998

by peter fingesten for norbert nechwatal, 1984

by emil orlik for paul bacher, 1905

alois kolb for dr. gustav leuschner

blue glazed ceramic ex libris belonging the king amenophis III

by ye ling feng XI, 1933

by unknown for guan zu zhang, circa 1914

a universal ex libris, circa 1530

ex libris of hildebrand brandenburg of biberach, a monk in the monastery of buxheim. as a rich man, he donated many books to the monastery's library, circa 1790

by vogelmann, circa 1530

by jakob bink for carolus agricola, 1538

hand painted by jost ammann for melchior schedel, 1570 a later member of the family painted the first name over and substituted his own, sebastian,

by albrecht dürer was one of the first noted ex libris artists in germany, 'sibi et amicis’ means ‘belonging to him and his friends’, circa 1500

by raphael sadeler for biblio bayern, circa 1623

by an unknown artist for sébastien galigai, circa 1610

by an unknown artist for pier huet, 1692. the ‘most illustrious prince of the church’ gave the 8321 volumes of his book collection to the jesuit library in pari

ex-libris designed by samuel pepys for his secretary arthur charlett, 1699

by josef werner and elias hainzelmann for giovanni andrea guidotti, circa 1690

by sebastien le clerc & claude duflos for matthieu françois geoffory, circa 1710

by françois boucher for jean-françois henault, circa 1750

by george vertue for the gentlemen's society of spalding, england, 1735

a portrait ex libris by an unknown artist for count filippo linati, circa 1780

a portrait ex libris by bernard baron for a british architect james gibbs, 1736

by an unknown artist for paul and isaac vaillant, circa 1780

by max klinger for himself, 1896

surrealist image of a beheaded medusa by richard müller for leonhard fanto, 1911.

by louis titz for jules darcet, 1914 titz made several ex-libris in 1914-1918 on the subject of war, this ex libris has inscribed: 'in the ruins here was my library on the wall'

by juan forja for oscar tiberio, circa 1930 ex libris was not widespread argentina until the mid 1920's but the art déco style quickly arrived from europe

by alfred cossmann for himself, circa 1900

by alfred soder for friedrich berchtold sutter, 1907 nietsche naked in the alps, characteristic of the freedom and imagination of the time

by karl blossfeld for himself, circa 1920 blossfeld creates a figure representing man's frailty for his own books

ex libris of kasimir de rönay, circa 1925

by paul nash for samual courtauld, 1931

by author and playwright jean cocteau for pierre endmond lévy, 1960

by surrealist sculptor alberto giacometti for edmond bomsel, circa 1950

for the public record office in the tower of london, 1771

ex eroticis by fritz mock for dr. josef klüber, circa 1910

ex eroticis by martin ernst phillipp for 'o.s.s', 1913

vanitas ex libris by johann jakob and johann rudolf schid, schmid

vanitas ex libris by josef sattler for paul bücher, 1894

vanitas ex libris by alfred liebing for joan baucis circa 1910

an example of vanitas ex libris, showing the medieval totentaz (dance of death) by karl ritter, 1921

a vanitas motif by georg oskar erler for his own bookplate, circa 1920

by erich büttner for albert einstein in 1917

ex libris for charlie chaplin

nerve cells for perrivel bailey, a neurosurgeon

by an unknown artist for scientist arthur barron

by an unknown artist for garrett hardin, a microbiologist

motifs the simplest way to indicate who owned a book was by the depiction of a coat of arms, or family crest. these types of identification symbols could be understood even by those who could not read, and were of course a proud way of communicating status. inscriptions and mottos were also popular, further reinforcing the views and beliefs of the book's owner. the earliest examples of ex libris are all heraldic in form. but like the technology of making books and ex libris evolved, so did the styles and motifs depicted on them. portraits soon became a popular alternative to family emblems, they provided a more individual and personal identification, and went someway to massaging egos! pictorial ex libris also was used to express the owners identity. throughout the age of enlightenment books became more and more widely available to people within different levels of society. the middle classes had increased access to culture and knowledge and as such they too began to form their own private libraries. not all these people, however could afford to commission an artist to create a personal ex libris, it was still an expensive collaborative process, reserved for the rich. engravers soon found that there was a market for universal bookplates, with which the owner could write their name in a blank space. later in the 18th and 19th centuries images and features such scales, shells, urns, architectural features landscapes, chinese motifs were prevalent in design. the overall effect having not so much to do with identification or heritage, as much as representation of values and interests. for example a pile of books may represent a neap of knowledge, or a microscope might represent a scientists work with small cells. by the early 20th century the designing and creating of ex libris became regarded as a form of high art. vanitas ex libris does not, as you might think, refer to the vain aspects of the ex libris tradition like pasting small depictions of oneself on all your literary possessions! instead it translates from latin 'vanitas' meaning emptiness, and is used to illustrate the meaningless of earthy life and the transient nature of vanity. very often symbols such as peacocks together with skulls and skeletons would be incorporated into the design, representing the finiteness of man and the certainty of death. as we've said before, it was during the middle ages in europe that librarianship really became popular. not only was this a time of unbounded exploration and discovery but also period of philosophical contemplation. death was prevalent due to diseases such as the black death / plague. the illustrations could be mistaken for references to the results of war, but instead they were a reminder that man is only mortal, a limited being with an expiry date. meanwhile books can last much longer and one day become the possessions of someone else. similarly an hourglass or candle might serve as a reminder of the transitory quality of pleasure. pictorial ex libris with books, globes, musical instruments or smoking implements dealt with the vanity of the intellectual world, coupled with a skull could mean the limitation of human knowledge. these small paper pieces remained as a sort of antique business card, marking

the intellectual property of learned people. is there a place for ex libris in the digital world? despite developments in modern communication technology, books remain a primary means for the transmission of knowledge but with the rise of the internet, and the freedom of acquiring knowledge that it brings with it, books have certainly lost their supremacy as the sole providers of knowledge and a lot of their followers. but even though books are not honoured in quite the same way more they have therefore referred back to their status of being special and uncommon. is there a digital equivalent of ex libris?

why not have a go at designing your own ex libris and post your efforts on the discussion board.

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